Monday 22 December 2014

Still and Star (2)

Is it brewing? Is it not? I'm still a little unsure. I went in as promised on Tuesday teatime and there were four brown beers on the bar and one harassed barmaid.  There was no smell of brewing or any obvious recent brewery activity.  My inquiry elicited the polite information that there would be no home brewed beer until after Christmas (which I took to mean next year) and that brewing was already taking place.  It may be that the Citra mentioned in my last post was just a trial, but since the poor lass that answered my inquiry was so busy, I thought it inconsiderate to question her further.  So it may be and it may not.  The photo of the board outside which illustrates this post is either information, a teaser, or both. In whatever case it has been updated.

Now Professor Pie-Tin takes me to task about writing about this new venue for a brewery.  He says "You've written an entire post based on a brewpub you haven't been into since it became a brewpub and a beer you haven't tasted. I'm all for clickbait lovey but play the game a little bit at least."  Well I didn't know he cared, but since when did investigating a new brew-pub near where you have a home come under the term "clickbait"?  Should I be miffed?  Not really - it's all part of the game -  but if PPT wishes a few more targets for his disdain, I can point him to many well known bloggers that excel in clickbait.  Bloggers chasing audience or building beery careers are all part of the game. Me? Perish the thought. I'm past all that. Still, he has got me to answer, so a point to him. He's one of my regulars though, so all is forgiven.

In my brief visit to the capital, I had a few pints in a rammed Market Porter.  The beer wasn't as good as my visit a couple of weeks ago and it was rammed then. Just not quite as rammed.  The old enemy of great cask beer, too a high a temperature was the culprit, but the heat in the place made the beer slide down anyway and it was a great atmosphere so all wasn't lost.  In fact following a wise trip to the Dean Swift for very good Dark Star Hophead, an unwise visit to the Draft House in Seething Lane ensued. We left later than we should have and afterwards I found myself somewhat potless* and accidentally pissed.  I felt more than a tad rough on Thursday.  In fact we both did. Been a while since that happened and not hugely enjoyable.

It was an AFD on Thursday and back to Manchester boozing on Friday with my oldest friend Mike. At his request we only did pubs, not bars. On Frantic Friday, it was a good plan.

I was given three bottles of beer by Eileen's colleagues as a Christmas present. Well chosen too. One each from Mikeller, Kernel and Redchurch. Not bad eh?  

* Skint. Getting pissed in London is a dear do.

Monday 15 December 2014

Still and Star Aldgate

Apparently this pub, nearly opposite Aldgate Tube Station,  now houses one of London's newest breweries as was discussed, I think, on Twitter some weeks ago.  So far, there isn't that much more to go on -  unless you know differently of course - but I have heard nothing. When I was last in London, last week I noticed on my way back to Manchester, that it seemed to be in production. As it was before opening time though, I couldn't pop in to try it out.  This is a pub I have been in a couple of times before, but never found it to be either conducive or welcoming and usually with three or four mainstream brown beers of similar strength in only average condition.  It was therefore a shock to me to hear that a brewery has been added.  Even more shocking I suppose is that they aren't whacking out a Courage Bestalike -  if the photo which illustrates this blog post is anything to go by.

I'm down in London tomorrow again and will take this opportunity to give it a go, as invariably it is at Aldgate I alight when I visit.  It would be nice to have a decent brewpub near my London flat and this would be, by some way, the nearest. You will see they seem to have started off with a Citra based beer. Well we shall see how it turns out and what the brewery is called officially, though if the photo is to be believed, it seems it is just "The Still and Star Brewpub".  I suppose it does what it says on the tin.

I'll let you know how I get on.

I don't know why this is, but I'm not expecting great things here. I do hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Not So Smooth Operator

In a quite astonishing spat, JD Wetherspoon has with immediate effect, ended its contract with Heineken to supply a number of drinks brands including Heineken and Foster's Lagers, Strongbow Cider and that old JDW favourite, John Smith's Smooth.

They have been trading partners for 35 years, so how has this come to pass?  Well since JDW ruffled feathers in Ireland by daring to open a pub in Dublin, things have been a bit tetchy over there. First of all Diageo, owners of Guinness, were booted out (or rather were never booted in) as JDW refused to pay what they saw as an inflated price for the black stuff. JDW turned to Murphy's Stout made by Heineken and things sailed along nicely, though under the surface, all was not well it seems.  Wetherspoon now intend to open a second pub in Ireland and looked to Heineken to supply it, but there has been a spectacular disagreement.  According to the BBC and other identical statements elsewhere, Heineken wanted to make the CEO of JDW, John Hutson, personally liable in case of a default on any debt, though why they should do so is a bit of a mystery given JDW's £80 million annual profit.  Wetherspoon has basically said and I paraphrase; "Well, stuff you then - take your scabby products out of our nice pubs!"

Now that would be bad enough if this sanction just applied to Ireland, but JDW has effectively said "Get Lost" to Heineken for all of their 900 plus pubs in the UK, blowing a £60 million account out of the water. Someone has misjudged the moment. Or maybe more than one someone.  In a somewhat pained manner Heineken UK said "

"Heineken UK has had a long standing and successful relationship with JDW in the UK market over a 35-year period, and it is unfortunate that commercial issues in Ireland between Heineken Ireland and JD Wetherspoon have led to the current situation. We are seeking a resolution as soon as possible."

Well I bet they are. To lose one account is unfortunate, but to lose 923 all at once is certainly careless, especially when you have been shafted by your Irish compadres. There is of course more to this than meets the eye with JDW undercutting the price of a pint of Heineken by up to €2 and the evil eye of Irish publicans being cast upon Heineken for that reason. Given that JDW has plans for up to 30 pubs in the Republic, this may well be somewhat of a test case, though I doubt that Heineken foresaw the eventual outcome and I very much doubt that this is the end of the matter. It is hard to see how Heineken can do other than to back down as JDW can undoubtedly get beer elsewhere.  There will be further repercussions too likely as not, but it is nearer home to which we must in compassion turn. Nobody in this sordid tale seems to give a monkeys chuff for those most affected, the Nine in the Morning Club.  What are they going to do without John Smith's Smooth? Ruddles just won't cut it.

Sadly it is always the least fortunate in our society that suffers when the big boys fall out.

On a more sombre note, this does show that when big business falls out, who knows where it all might end? Heineken is the world's biggest family owned brewer.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Well Well

I know very little of my own about the brewing scene in Ireland. Fortunately the Beer Nut has his finger on every brewing pulse Ireland has and it is through him that I learn what little I know. I do though glean that the scene there is hotting up, with new beers and breweries sprouting up through every crack in the pavement. Or so it seems at least.

One brewery I do know of is Franciscan Well and when they asked me to come along to the London launch of some of their beers, I jumped at the chance and thus it was a couple of Thursdays ago, I presented myself in the other Smiths. The one in Spitalfields that is, not the better known one in Smithfield. Assembled bloggers (I only knew one) and press types were treated to three different beers and accompanying food. I won't attempt to describe the beers in detail, but all were presented by Des McCann, Molson Coors Beer Champion for Ireland and also described by owner and founder Shane Long. For those interested, Shane founded the Franciscan Well in 1998 on the North Mall in Cork City on the site of an old Franciscan Monastery and Well. Shane himself was primarily a publican (and still is) now turned brewer and having had the opportunity to chat to him for a while, not only is he a thoroughly engaging guy, but rather an enthusiast for the Irish Brewing scene.

The brewery was taken over by Molson-Coors in 2013, but as far as I can tell, Shane still runs the show, albeit overseen on behalf of the parent by Sharp's Supremo, Stuart Howe. They are rather proud of their Rebel Red - an Irish Red Ale -but its caramel and CO2 combo did little for me. Much more to my liking was the Chieftain IPA. Slightly sweeter than a normal IPA, but designed for local Irish palates, Shane called it an Irish Pale Ale. Best of all for me was Shandon Stout, a minerally, deep, dark beer, made luscious by nitrogen presentation and with a slightly bitter-sweet, mineral/metallic finish. I had a decent chat with Shane who explained that the Cork water,(untreated as far as I know) gives the mineral and metal taste that typifies Cork beers. I'll take his word, but I assume that the water for the other beers is treated in some way, as they tasted rather clean. We went on to discuss Guinness which Shane rather likes, though his view is that its good features are ruined by serving it at ice cold temperatures. My own conflicting view that the recipe had been so neutered over the years and the ice cold pour was meant to disguise it, was given a non committal "Well. Maybe". He still thinks it a good beer ruined by presentation. There you go. Either way, chatting to him was an absolute delight. His enthusiasm was boundless.

On the way out we were given a large, shiny, black box by the Molson-Coors PR people.  So large and ungainly, that there was no easy way to carry it. It was also extremely unbalanced by its contents, which were revealed after I'd walked home, stopping to rest my arms frequently, to be a four pint container of freshly poured Chieftain IPA. Worth a slightly uncomfortable walk.

It made a great accompaniment to Question Time and E liked it too.

All three beers are available in London it seems, or the launch was pointless.  Hospitality was courtesy of Molson-Coors